I’ve been thinking quite a bit about working memory lately. This likely stems from working on a project with dense financial and legal content—everyone’s favorite kind of course. We’ve whittled and chunked information, reworked familiar activities, and innovated new uses of common aids. Even so, when you get to that page-by-page level, there is still a lot of information that we want the learner to pick up and remember.
The dilemma my team has been facing is how to draw this new information out of working memory and attach it to old information in meaningful ways. As I was reviewing the initial scripts that we had put together, I realized that the weak link was in the visual component. Sure, we’re still dealing with placeholder graphics at that point in time, but the description smiling banker at computer doesn’t inspire much confidence.
The visual design (including the interface, graphics, and where we place objects) needs to complement and enhance the verbal message, and we simply weren’t taking full advantage of dual coding—the visual–verbal link for information recall. We were very good at using our words to simplify and break down complex topics. We were also very good at using graphics to enhance the emotional appeal of the page, but you can only have so many smiling, happy bankers before they blend into the background and completely disappear, leaving the learner alone with the words.
How, then, do we use the visual design to buttress the content and activities? How do we create or find strong visual cues that enhance the primary message of our elearning development and highlight information for the learner? Some of the tools we have at our disposal include:
What would you add to the list?
Check back later as we discuss how to use these components to more effectively support information recall.
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For my dissertation project, I developed new ways of measuring small changes in how hard people are thinking or how loaded their short-term memory is while they use a computer by recording very small variations in their pupil diameter with an eye tracker. My contributions are mostly methodological: I established the feasibility of measuring cognitive load without head-mounted equipment , quantified the precision of such measurements , and extended the scope of cognitive pupillometry to more complicated, visual tasks, by combining pupil measurements with eye tracking data . I used these methods to measure the dynamics of cognitive load during mental arithmetic, simple vigilance tasks, visual search, mental rotation, map reading, and interactive exploration of a complex data visualization. I discovered new evidence that for simple numerical tasks, the advantage of visually presented material over auditory material is due to dual coding (internal representation in both the visual and verbal working memory).